Monday, April 17, 2006

Time to pay for MLS matches

If you're like me, you thought it was strange that MLS was no longer on Fox Soccer Channel. MLS denies this decision has anything to do with next year's TV deal with ABC, so why did they make the change? Could it be that they wanted to try a new media strategy involving online broadcasts?

For a few years now, most televised games have been streamed through the MLS site for free (if you did not have the bandwidth for video, they also including audio streams, with a lot of them being in both English and Spanish). It was a nice thing for those without cable or those not near a TV. Still, between FSC and ESPN2, most weekends saw 3 or 4 games on the air, so I'm guessing it was not the main source of viewing for most fans.

However, without FSC, most weekends this season will see 1 or 2 games, but several, including a lot in the late season, will have none. So if you want to watch games without paying $70 for direct kick, what do you do? Well, you could attend them, or you can watch them online.

That brings us to now. Starting this weekend, you will need to pay to view matches online. The cost is $19.95 for the season or $3.95 for a day pass. In return, you will see all televised games not on ABC or ESPN2.

This is a risky strategy. Yes, they will generate a new revenue stream, but with so few games on television, how will they catch casual fans?

The $20 figure is low enough that most hardcore fans with a good internet connect will signup. If those numbers are 10-20,000, then MLS just brought in $200-400,000. Even after you take away the cost of the feed, it is a nice chuck of money for the league. Still, I worry that this will make the game harder to find, thus making it more of a niche.

Who knows the real reasons behind the move away from FSC and towards the internet, but this does offer some interesting opportunities for the league. None of the big American sports have a huge foothold on the net. This has a lot to do with them not needing one, but still, MLS could take the lead on something. If they did a better job of packaging their product for online consumers (read this as total website redesign) and maybe made their games available for download to portable players (like the video iPod through the iTunes store), along with a number of other things (how hard would it be for each team to have a blog?), they could hook some more people in. I don't know how well it would work, but it might just get noticed and that's more then it's getting now.


Blogger MLS Fangirl said...

I'm getting a lot out of the online games. I can only afford basic cable, so both FSC and Direct Kick were out for me. I could only watch soccer on ESPN2, and that goes away at the end of August when American football starts up. I've watched more soccer in the past three weeks than I watched in a month last year. So it's a great deal for me, and I'm getting even more into the Beautiful Game than ever.

I also think it's brilliant for MLS to hop on the online bandwagon. More networks are starting to see response from people who are watching their shows online. I really think this is a viable niche, and considering that soccer in the US is a niche, it's a perfect fit.

2:56 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home